(p. 148) You and Your Less Anxious Teen
Like most parents, you likely came to therapy thinking, “I just want my teen to feel better. I want her to be like a normal teenager, and not feel so anxious all the time.” Be careful what you wish for!
On Having a Normal Teenager
Normal teenagers fight with their parents. Normal teenagers break rules and test limits. Their job, as teenagers, is to figure out who they are, and they can only do that if they differentiate themselves (to varying degrees) from their families. While you may have thought you wanted a normal teenager, after the tenth time you’ve had to drop your teen at the mall in one week or the umpteenth fight you have over whether or not she can skip a family function to go out with friends, you may begin to wish you had that anxious teen back again—the one who didn’t want to go anywhere without you and preferred being at home to anywhere else in the world.
Mourning the Loss
It is okay for you to feel some sadness and regret over the distance that may develop as your teen begins to have a more independent life. However, it is important to remember that this is an important stage in your teen’s development. Picture your teen as an adult—what are the things you want for her? A happy relationship? A good job? A family? These come from figuring out who she is and becoming an independent adult. It is your teen’s job to fight with you and separate somewhat from you; it does not mean that you are “losing” her, it just means that she is developing. And that’s a good thing!
(p. 149) Find New Ways to Bond with Your Teen
Now that your teen is starting to do things on her own, you may feel that panic is no longer the “glue” keeping your relationship feeling close and together. So, if you are no longer needed to help your teen through panic attacks because your teen already has these skills, it is important that you and your teen find new ways to bond and find time together. Once the panic attacks decrease, you may begin to feel as if you are not needed anymore, but that is not true. We know that building a good relationship with your teen now will help her navigate the teenage years and beyond. So, focus on finding new, positive things you can do together regularly that don’t involve panic, such as going out to lunch together, shopping together, going to a concert or sporting event together, and the like. Brainstorm with your teen fun activities that you and she can do together. Now that panic is not ruling your teen’s life anymore, you are free to enjoy so many more things together! Enjoy this opportunity!!!
Adjusting the Volume, Not Changing the Station
Some parents may find that, although their teen is no longer panicking (or avoiding feared situations), she is still more clingy than her siblings and still gets more anxious in certain situations than other teens. While therapy does many things, it is not going to change who your child is at heart. Some people are introverts, others are extroverts, and still others are somewhere in between. None of these is good or bad, and the world would be a boring place if everyone were the same. If you think of your teen as a radio, therapy is not going to change the station, it just adjusts the volume. In other words, therapy helps turn the anxiety volume down to a manageable, acceptable level; it does not turn your child into an entirely different person, nor would we want to do so! Teens who are temperamentally more anxious are often sensitive, empathic, and caring. Be sure to focus on the positive qualities your child possesses—there are plenty of them!